Since I have been eligible to vote, there have been maybe just two or three elections I haven’t voted in. I am a naturalized American citizen—I was born in England and we came to the U.S. when I was two years old.
My parents were politically active in England and used to go door to door, canvasing for their candidates. We lived in the States for fourteen years before they became citizens and could vote—so they instilled in me the urgency and importance of voting. Every. Single. Election. I vote in the big elections, in the local elections, in the mid term elections. Hell, I even overnight mailed in my absentee ballot from England, where I was studying my junior year of college. It was that important (and, yes, I had procrastinated that much).
In 2016, the people who could but did not vote decided the outcome. About 47% of registered voters in the U.S. didn’t vote. If they had voted, the outcome may have been different.
I have since 8 pm Pacific time on November 8, 2016—when Florida went red—had a rough, woolen blanket of anxiety wrapped around my solar plexus. It goes with me everywhere. It makes me feel vaguely nauseated every day. It can keep me from breathing deeply. For two years. Feeling like I need to puke and can’t breathe—for two years. It’s like a dull terror. What will happen. What will happen. What will happen. Can I breathe. Will I breathe. What will happen. What will happen.
And it’s the height of privilege that I’ve only had this blanket for two years. Millions world wide, and here in the U.S. have lived with this dull terror every day of their lives as subjects of systematized racism. Much of my work for the last two years has been to learn them how you go on. How you function when your blanket of anxiety is squeezing you, keeping you from breathing.
I’ve learned you take action—whatever action you can. You get out of your comfort zone. You stretch. You talk to others. Create community. Have real conversations about what matters. Check in on your gay, lesbian, trans, black, brown, Jewish, and marginalized friends. See how they are doing. You exercise. You breathe deep. You meditate. You find some way to express yourself creatively. You eat more vegetables and less sugar. But you keep taking action.
We need checks and balances back in our system—which means having at least the House of Representatives or Senate go blue—and right now I’m not sure we will get them. And if we don’t, it is very dark what comes next.
There it is. The blanket of anxiety wraps tighter the closer we get to next Tuesday, November 6. There are times, I’m not sure I can manage it. Manage the anxiety. The dull terror. I am new to this. By virtue of the accident the life and skin color I was born into, I am new to this.
We have seen the erosion of norms I had taken for granted as a white, middle-class, suburban child growing up in New England. I had taken for granted that the U.S. would always be a democracy. Taken for granted that, as a naturalized citizen, I would always be able vote. Taken for granted that, as a woman, I would always be able to vote. It was naïve. I know that now. There is nothing we can take for granted. All of it is at stake.
It is uncertain.